Just the premise of the question seemed to bug Jonah Williams.
Slow starts? Alabama is the first team since the 1880s to win every regular-season game by at least 21 points, yet the first half has been slow going the last two weeks.
After averaging a 35-6 halftime lead in the first 10 games, the Crimson Tide outscored The Citadel and Auburn just 27-24 total in the opening half.
“I mean, I think that that was a top-10 scoring defense in the country,” Williams said, “and we were able to score more points than they’ve allowed in three years.”
Still, the close halftime scores in consecutive games have the attention of Nick Saban. As it enters the SEC Championship Game with Georgia, the ultimate slow start from January is hard to forget. The Tide trailed the Bulldogs 13-0 at halftime in the national title game before winning in overtime.
With nothing guaranteed in the playoff chase, Saban knows Alabama can’t afford another such start in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It can be a delicate dance in the preparation stages when getting a group ready to compete.
“You always want to make sure your team is physically fresh,” Saban said. “But the more difficult thing to determine is, are the players getting mentally tired? And I think that you want to make sure that both parts of that equation are in order, to be fresh and ready to go. I can’t say 100 percent for sure if that’s had anything to do with how we’ve started games the last two games.”
As with any team this time of year, the season take a toll both physically and mentally. Everyone from Tua Tagovailoa to left guard Deonte Brown, running back Damien Harris and defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs have dealt with some kind of injury in recent week. Several more are banged up.
Saban talked through the dilemma from the podium at Monday’s news conference.
“If we were physically tired, we wouldn’t have been able to come out and play so well in the second half,” Saban said. “But if we were mentally tired, maybe that effected our preparation going into the game, which effected how we started. And I would say in this last game, based on the mental errors we made and the fundamental execution not being as sharp as it needed to be, that may have been the case.”
The third quarters following recent slow starts quickly turned games into routs.
Alabama outscored The Citadel and Auburn a combined 49-7 in the third quarter and 75-14 in the second halves.
“I think we started off fast throughout the first part of the season,” Tagovailoa said. “It was kind of those things where we took off the third and fourth quarter, and then when we came into the second half of the season we started off slower but we finished a lot better. It’s one of those things where we got to be able to find balance. We got to be able to start fast and finish strong.
Can’t be just be one dimensional with starting fast and not finishing strong or vice versa.”